Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (USA, 1941, Victor Fleming)
Despite the widespread success of horror films in the 1930s, MGM rarely made them, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde could explain why. The film is a partially successful attempt to intellectualize the genre, removing the story's overtly terrifying elements in favor of a psychological portrait of the protagonists. However, conventions of the time did not allow director Victor Fleming, fresh off his huge successes Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, to examine the powerful sexual undertones of Stevenson's tale, robbing the film of much of its potential insight. The misogyny and sexual violence of Jekyll's crimes appear to arise out of a void, rather than as an integral part of the character's psyche. Furthermore, the film just loses its way after a strong opening act, falling back on predictable dramatic conventions that drain the film of its narrative energy and underlying horror.
However, the performances of Spencer Tracy in the title role(s) and the radiant Ingrid Bergman as the object of his desire elevate the film above standard horror fare. Tracy was determined to portray his character as a sad and disturbed individual in order to add shadings and sympathy to the villainous figure. Though Lana Turner is little more than ornament as Hyde's fiancée, Tracy's masterful, nuanced performance is well-balanced by Bergman's spirited and sensual turn as Ivy, the oddly-accented Cockney barmaid (a prostitute in the non-bowdlerized version). Sadly, Bergman's feisty character must, as is the rule is such fare, become a hapless victim, making her character's story arc nearly incomprehensible. Nonetheless, the actors are riveting in their scenes together, with constant, palpable tension and electricity between them. Fleming's direction is artful and tasteful, and Joseph Ruttenberg's cinematography effectively captures the moody, fog-filled sets of Victorian England.